If you're driving between Maastricht and Eindhoven, the very pretty historic village of Thorn (pronounced To-ren) makes a delightful short detour. Once the smallest principality of the Holy Roman Empire, it was the domain of vorstendom – rich independent women who wanted to live free of men.

Almost every building apart from the fine church (now a museum) has been painted white since the 1790s, when the then French rulers decided to tax homeowners by the size of their windows. Many chose to reduce their window sizes but needed to paint over the changes to hide differences in the additional brickwork. Or so the story goes.

An appealing way to visit Thorn on weekends (April to September) or daily in July and August, is by the Cascade Boat from Wessem, a small town on the E25 north of Maasbracht. The boat makes three trips a day also linking to gently attractive Stevensweert.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

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